SAN JOSE (KPIX) — In competitive real estate markets it has become common practice for hopeful buyers to submit personal stories when trying to purchase a home. These appeals are known in the industry as “love letters” but realtors are trying to phase them out saying they can be a liability.
For many the decision to sell your home is an emotional one. That was certainly true for Alene Ipsaro of San Jose.
“This was my childhood home and I returned 15 years ago and it became my home again,” Ipsaro said.
With her children in college and the temptation of a red-hot real estate market, Ipsaro made the decision to sell her home and it went fast. “It took five days,” she said.
She asked not to be shown any pictures of or learn background stories about any potential buyers.
“Our realtor was wise and encouraged us to stay focused on the merits of the offer and the strength of the financial offer,” Ipsaro said.
For decades, families have chosen to include photos of their children or personal stories to help push their offer to the top of the pile. New regulations from the National Association of Realtors and, more recently, the California Association of Realtors say these can lead to discrimination and should be phased out.
“Buyers feel compelled to write about the wife, the kids and the dog but this can actually work against them,” said Michael Verdone, a real estate agent in Redwood City.
Verdone says he’s working to educate his clients about the legal risk these letters pose.
“As a realtor I have concerns about discrimination; there may be implicit bias against race, religion,” Verdone said.
Imagine a buyer writing something like “I can see my kids running down these stairs on Christmas morning” and attaching a picture of the family. That kind of detail helps the seller identify their race, religion and familial status. Refusing to sell to someone for any of these identifiers along with sex, nationality or disability violates the Fair Housing Act.
“It’s hard enough to try and get a house in a very competitive marketplace like Santa Clara county and to have some overt discrimination working against you is even that much more unconscionable,” said Dave Walsh, president of California Association of Realtors.
Walsh said that combating systemic racism and unconscious bias is C.A.R.’s top priority for the year.
“We have a long history of being part of that problem. As much as we have learned, we still have a lot to undo,” he said.
Convincing buyers to drop the personal stories about their families and their homes can be a tough sell.
“I would say that it’s starting to change but, if I had 10 offers, seven of them at least would have a buyer cover letter explaining the buyers,” Walsh said.